Joe-Pinions: Sports

29 Dec 2011 – Why I’m Boycotting the NBA

Posted in Basketball by txtmstrjoe on 29/12/2011

I’ve been telling buddies and family members that I’ll be boycotting the NBA starting this 2011-2012 season.  That means I will not watch any of the broadcasts.  I may read reports and columns about the Los Angeles Lakers – I simply cannot do without the thoughts and opinions of people such as Adrian Wojnerowski of Yahoo! Sports (@WojYahooNBA on Twitter), Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register (@KevinDing), and Jason Whitlock of Fox Sports (@WhitlockJason) – since I don’t want to be ignorant of NBA- and Lakers-related issues, but as far as actually watching any of the games?

No way.

I don’t want to even be perceived as supporting, condoning, or accepting David Stern’s continuing reign of terror and destruction as the NBA’s malevolent dictator-for-life Commissioner any longer .

I don’t want to keep on contributing to the continuation of the status quo, where spoiled, bratty superstars are hailed as the greatest basketball players ever, when most of them can’t even dribble properly as the rules say they should and too few know how to sink their free throws even when it’s not yet crunch time.

I just feel that the NBA is no longer about basketball.

Well, truth be told it has been a long time since I thought and felt that way about the NBA.  Opinions on when the NBA transformed from a professional sporting league to a straight-up, cutthroat business enterprise will probably vary, but I think it started sometime during the 1980s.

Of course, NBA historians know that David Stern took over as league commissioner in 1980.

The 1980s, of course, was the decade of the resurgence of both the Los Angeles Lakers and their hated rivals, the Boston Celtics.  The renaissance of these two marquee NBA franchises was spurred by the arrival of both Earvin “Magic” Johnson (with the Lakers) and Larry Bird (with the Celtics).

Both are now considered to be two of the greatest NBA players ever.

(As an aside, I consider Larry Bird to be the greatest NBA player ever, just ahead of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.)

Not coincidentally, with the arrival of both Magic and Bird came Stern’s opportunity to really put his stamp on the NBA.  Magic and Bird were the first beneficiaries of Stern’s policy to promote the stars of the league.

Whenever their teams met, whether it was during the regular season or during the Finals (where the Lakers and the Celtics met thrice in the decade, in 1984, 1985, and 1987), the games were almost inevitably billed as “Magic vs. Bird.”

The phenomenon wasn’t just all about Magic and Bird, though.  The 1980s saw the rise of several other superstars.  In Philadelphia you had Dr. J and Charles Barkley; Houston had its Twin Towers, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson; the Utah Jazz ensemble was led by “the Mailman” Karl Malone and John Stockton; the Detroit Pistons were headlined by Isiah Thomas and his Bad Boys crew; and so on and so forth.

Stern’s policy of promoting his superstars undoubtedly worked (spectacularly so, in fact), and the league became more prosperous and popular than it had ever been.

But for every success there is a price to be paid.  In the case of Stern’s edict of “promote the superstars,” the price was steep.  Stern’s policy led to the gradual corruption of the game of basketball as played in the league and, perhaps inevitably, the dilution of the concept that basketball is a team game.

What do I mean when I say that the game of basketball became corrupted?

People who love the game, who have actually played or officiated or coached the game on a competitive basis (especially for a long time), or studied its nuances the way a hardcore player or coach would, would probably understand my point better than people who just play pick-up games or are casual fans at best.  Fundamental skills of basketball players at all levels have deteriorated.  The rules specify that there are correct ways to dribble the ball, to move your feet when you have the ball, to set screens, to do lots of things.  Watch basketball today in the USA, at any level, and if you know the rules of the game you’d just feel sick when you see people palming or carry the ball when they dribble.  You’ll see people take one or two extra steps when they take off on a dunk attempt on a fastbreak.  You’ll see people moving as they set screens.  You’ll see so many rules violations that aren’t called when they absolutely should.

You want more examples of the erosion of fundamental skills?  Let me ask you a question, then:  Who knows how to shoot the basketball properly these days?  Who can you rely on to shoot free throws?  These days, accurate shooters have become such valuable specialists because too few players actually learn this most fundamental of skills.

Instead, almost everyone who’s tall enough or athletic enough who plays basketball wants to develop their hops so they can do the highlight 360° one-handed slam dunk instead.

Dunking the basketball takes so much less skill than shooting it properly at any range does.

But in David Stern’s corrupt basketball universe, the slam dunk is glorified like nothing else because it is spectacular.  The slam dunk made a star out of Kenny “Sky” Walker and Dee Brown, who were marginal as professional-caliber basketball players but superb athletes.  The slam dunk made Shaquille O’Neal a more relevant center than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar; you can substitute Dwight Howard for Shaq and Andrew Bynum for Kareem for the modern equivalent.

What am I saying here?

David Stern’s rule as Commissioner of the NBA has wrecked basketball.

*****

The NBA’s 2011-2012 season should have been aborted instead of being born.  Instead of a healthy child, what NBA fans will get instead is an ugly, misshapen thing with missing parts and more problems than ever.

The labor unrest in the NBA dominated the months since last season’s end.  The league’s team owners, the players’ union, and the players’ agents all had their agendas to push during the lockout.

The owners as a group wanted more money, and they wanted to install changes in the system such as an NFL-style “hard” salary cap, franchise tag, and non-guaranteed contracts in order to promote more parity within the league.

The players, of course, balked at everything that would take money away from their pockets.  Neither would they ever agree to the loss of their fully-guaranteed contracts.

And what of the agents?  You’ve got to figure they were firmly against any changes that would reduce their cut of the players’ salaries.  Many of these agents were accused of misinforming their clientele, a lot of whom are really too stupid to know for themselves what the lockout was about and all the issues being fought over.

For too many, the NBA lockout was all about making a greedy grab for larger slices of the money pie.

Consequently, none of the systems changes that were calculated to eventually result in an NBA with more parity, more competitive balance were approved.  The lockout was reduced to squabbling over who got more “Basketball-related income.”  The end result?  Things are essentially unchanged in the NBA.

*****

Don’t believe the horse “S” that the NBA lockout was all about helping the smaller market teams get themselves in a more competitive position.  That’s baloney.  If so, the owners in the smaller markets would have killed to earn real victories in getting the hard salary cap pushed through.

Instead, you have Dan Gilbert, LeBron James’ jilted lover, belly-aching about how the nixed Chris Paul-to-the-Lakers-trade would have reduced the Lakers’ salary tax figure and therefore shrunk his own bottom line (from smaller luxury tax penalties levied against big-spending teams like the Lakers).

There’s a reason why teams like Gilbert’s Cleveland Cavaliers are perpetually terrible, and teams like the Lakers are almost always fighting for championships:  The Lakers are simply run better.

Sure, having deep pockets helps a lot, but the Lakers, like the New York Yankees in Major League Baseball, believe that anything short of a championship victory at the end of the year is a failure.  Accordingly, they try to do everything they can within reason and within the rules to put themselves in a position to do just that.

As a fan of the team, that’s all I want.

But for fools like Dan Gilbert, well…  how about having people who know about basketball run your team so that it can build itself up to be more competitive?  I understand it’s a business, but success in business requires know-how and a strong work ethic.  Waiting for a hand-out just to keep your books balanced is a fool’s ploy, and to me, that’s the common denominator for the majority of the owners in the NBA.

*****

What would I have preferred to have seen result from the lockout?

If all that angst was truly about making the NBA a better league for the small markets, then these are what I would have wanted to see come out of it at the end:

  • A hard salary cap, just like what the NFL has.  A hard salary cap is the true equalizer in a sports league.  A fixed cap ensures that no team has the advantage of being able to out-spend its competitors.  This is why you see teams transform seemingly from irrelevance one year to competitive status the next.  A hard salary cap also puts the onus on the teams to invest in effective scouting, which leads to more effective drafts; moreover, you also have to be very good at assessing talent as far as signing and re-signing free agents.  The teams with the best management capabilities will naturally rise to the top; a hard salary cap prevents teams that simply have the capability of outspending its competition from being able to buy its way into competitiveness.  A hard salary cap, of course, is not designed to cap owners’ and players’ potential earnings, especially if you take the point of view that a hard salary cap means players now must compete amongst each other to get as high a salary as they can command in the free agent market.
  • An increased age limit for rookies.  One of the NBA’s biggest problems is that the new blood coming into the league is corrupt and immature to begin with.  Most players entering the NBA have absolutely no concept of what it is to be an adult; most players, no matter what age, seem to be entitled, arrogant young athletes who lack the maturity to handle everything that the NBA throws at them.  Too many players start their NBA careers with nary a year past high school.  For bigs (centers, some power forwards), some of them haven’t even finished their physical development yet at that age.  Subjecting their body to the incredible stresses of an NBA career can do untold damage.  In my considered opinion, everyone wins with increasing the rookie age limit, generally speaking.  Rookies with at least three years of college will be more mature in respects – physically, psychologically, and in terms of basketball seasoning – than rookies just one year out of high school.  Moreover, the NCAA should also naturally improve by having more upperclassmen playing basketball.  Just look at football, where teams with the most upperclassmen tend to play the best, especially during tournament time.
  • Having only partially-guaranteed contracts.  Partially-guaranteed contracts are not evil, no matter what the agents and the players might believe.  In the real world, this is how most salary contract structures are.  The only guaranteed portion of most salaries in the real world that I inhabit and am familiar with is the signing bonus.  You work for everything else.  Pro athletes, though, are sick with the disease that makes them believe they deserve everything they get (everything good, that is).  But partially-guaranteed contracts work as a positive force in at least two ways:  The players are required to live up to their end of the bargain by playing as well and as hard as they can (if they don’t, the teams have the option of terminating or buying out the contract at a value far smaller than the cost of the full contract), and teams have the power to get out from under onerous contracts if the player isn’t performing as well as they believed.  This is an entirely fair arrangement, and a mutually-beneficial one in my opinion.

These are just a few ideas to improve the NBA, given the stated (yet totally ignored) issues presented during the lockout.

Alas, none of these have come to pass.

It’s just more of the same NBA bullshit as before, as far as I can see.

If anything, the lockout only made things worse than ever before.

*****

I love basketball.  It is the game I played the most when I was growing up.  Ask my family.  I wasn’t even very good, but I love the game so much in my youth that in the summers I woke up at 4:30AM just to round up my teammates for 6:00AM practices.  I love the game so much that I studied it quite a bit, reading coaches’ manuals and talking with everybody I know whose basketball knowledge I respect.  I love the game so much that I volunteered my time in my senior year in high school to help my school’s girls’ basketball team — I served as a coach’s assistant, working with the big girls and helping out on drills.

I love the Lakers.  From the time I learned the name of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar when I was five or six years old, I’ve been a diehard fan of the team.  I’ve never rooted for any other NBA team.  Sure, from time to time I’ve followed the careers of a few ex-Lakers once they left the team (Vlade Divac, Kurt Rambis, and A.C. Green are amongst these very chosen few), but for me it’s always been about the purple-and-gold uniform.  I still remember the utter devastating shock I felt when I heard Magic Johnson had contracted HIV, and I wept in grief when Chick Hearn died.  Off all the sports teams I’ve followed in my lifetime, no matter what the sport, the Lakers have been in my sports fan’s heart the longest.  The Lakers are my first love.

I used to love the NBA.  In my formative years as a basketball fan, I admired the spectacular athleticism of players like Dominique Wilkins, James Worthy, tiny Spud Webb, and “Dr. J” Julius Erving.  I admired Magic Johnson’s showmanship, Larry Bird’s unerring shooting touch, Kevin McHale’s footwork in the low post, Kareem’s awesome Skyhook.  I even grew to love Shaquille O’Neal’s rim-rocking thunderous slam dunks, even as I cringed every time he tried to shoot free throws.

The NBA’s biggest problem, the reason why I’ve fallen out of love with it, is the NBA’s penchant for creating superstars at the expense of everything else.  Teams (and the concept of teamwork) seem to have been de-emphasized, sacrificed at the altar of individual superstardom.  The idea of growing and nurturing the collective good has been destroyed, all for the glory of just the one man.

The NBA, sadly, has become all about the wrong individual.

David Stern must go.  At this point, I don’t even care how he goes.

And as far as I’m concerned, he can’t leave soon enough.

Advertisements
Tagged with: , , ,

2 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Kirby_Fett said, on 29/12/2011 at 16:39

    Well said my friend.

  2. Tim Tinio said, on 01/01/2012 at 17:52

    I agree with your 100 %. You should be writing a column for the LA Times instead of Bill Plaschke.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: